2018 in Review

2018: The Year of Unexpected Beginnings

2018. What can I say, except wow. It was a year of many many unexpected beginnings, trials, and impact on my identity as a person. I said Yes to many things, and No to others, and being able to realize my boundaries and limitations have allowed me to find myself in situations that I couldn’t have imagined for myself a year ago.  This month has been a bit rough with depression stemming from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but just going over my past year has given me second wind just in time for the 11 day holiday!

⭐ Makings of a Multipotentialite

What the heck is a Multipotentialite? It’s a new term I decided to embrace earlier this month after reading “How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up” by Emilie Wapnick.  What does it mean? (It does sound rather pretentious!)

Emilie defines Multipotentialite as “someone with many interests and creative pursuits.”  Doesn’t sound as pretentious, right?  We are basically people who are opposite of “Specialists,” or people with “one true calling.”  We are interested in many things, and we pursue them all… simultaneously or sequentially.

This “identity” fits me to the T, as a serial Maker, IT Professional, Disability Advocate, and Writer with a background in Special Education.  I just wish it didn’t sound like someone with a monocle and a top hat!

I’ve switched up the formatting on my personal portfolio, Hiroko.IO with the new “branding,” and still trying to puzzle out a coherent way to express all my interests and projects.  If you’ve ever felt like you’re interested in way too many things and you don’t know which way to go, I HIGHLY recommend “How to Be Everything“!

Anyways, as this new-found identity (lol), I’ve done a lot of things in 2018.  Buckle in, because we’re gonna be going through work, careers, side hustles, money $$, trips, and health!

Intro to AWS for Newbies

☁️ Amazon Web Services (AWS)

In the end of 2017, I won a contest held by Kyle at Study Web Development, where he provided the Freelancing Bundle and 1 on 1 coaching in figuring out how I can potentially tap into the freelancer world with my skillsets. We had a back and forth over the next few weeks exploring different ways to monetize my skills to fill gaps and needs.  At that point, I didn’t have any set “thing,” but the idea of “thinking outside the box” to fulfill a niche need stayed with me throughout the year.

In January, I finished the #100DaysOfCode challenge.  Through it, I came to realize that working in and creating a career in the tech industry is a lot more fluid than I had thought, and that there are many ways to utilize my skills and talents to create something that’s unique to me.  It’s not all about being a developer or staring at servers or being a hacker like Mr. Robot.  I can pick up different skills and mush them together to create a role that I can love and thrive in.

In June, I decided that I wanted to get the AWS Cloud Practitioner Certification, and began studying for the exam. I’ve blogged a few times about Amazon Web Services (AWS) here, beginning with attending AWS Summit in July. I began with basically 0 knowledge about Cloud Computing or AWS, so I felt like I had no idea where to even begin.

With 2 weeks remaining to the day of my certification exam, I created AWS Newbies, a resource website for everything you need to know to pass the Cloud Practitioner exam, because I felt like after months of floundering around, I still had no idea what I was getting myself into.  I expected the website to be something maybe 20 people will visit every year.

I took my exam in beginning of September, passed (with score of 908/1000!), and felt pretty good about myself.  I thought it might be a good time to post about my #YUPIDIDTHAT and #YUPIMADETHAT accomplishments to Tech Ladies group.  I was blown away by the responses I got from fellow ladies in tech who were looking for resources just like I was.  And then the recruitment offers started rolling in.  At first, I was completely confused.  All I did was create a website like I always do, and suddenly, I had companies big and small reaching out asking if I wanted to work as a Technical Writer for them.

Since I still felt like I needed to up my technical skills, so staying in a technical role was important for the next few years for me, so I ended up turning them all down.  But having these offers definitely gave me a bit to think about.  Before having companies reach out to me, I had no idea that Technical Writing was an actual “job” that actually paid fairly well. I could do the thing that I enjoyed that I already do for free for… Money! I put Technical Writing in my arsenal of “Jobs for When I Retire” box, which includes things like becoming a Stay At Home Puppy Mommy, Opening a Cafe and Writing a Novel in a Cabin by a Lake.

Then, a month or so later, content manager from LinkedIn reached out to me, asking if I was interested in creating a video course for LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com to teach people about Cloud Computing and AWS.  I was floored. I, for one, had no idea LinkedIn had acquired Lynda!

Just kidding – I was completely floored by the fact that here was a huge company coming to me, with basically 0 experience in Cloud Computing/AWS, to teach what I know. Because I am better able to translate the technical jargon for absolute beginners to begin their journey into the field.  She told me that there are plenty of engineers with 15+ years of experience who are amazing instructors for people who are intermediate to advanced.  But they tend to not be able to articulate points and teach to an audience of non-engineers.  And with Cloud Computing becoming the “next big thing” (actually, it’s already here), it’s imperative that there are resources for people without technical resources to begin learning about the technology.

So just like that, I am officially a Course Instructor at LinkedIn, creating technical video courses on Cloud Computing! I’ll be flying out to California mid next month to film.  That’s obviously been a lot of work and learning, but I think I can officially say that if there’s ever a title of Expert Newbie, I’d definitely be it!

Meanwhile, as the paperwork and legal stuff were going on with LinkedIn, I began to create my first independent course for AWS Newbies.  I wanted to have at least one thing that I could say is fully mine, and an online group called Women Make was having a 30 day challenge to ship a product in 30 days.  I was going to be away on a holiday to France for 2 weeks of the 30 days in October, but I took it as a sign to get as much done as possible during the month of October.  And what do you know! I actually finished it! AND I also finished an eBook version as well!

In beginning of November, I released both Intro to AWS for Newbies: FREE Newsletter Course, and Intro to AWS for Newbies: an eBook.  I learned so much through this experience, starting with how to use MailChimp all the way to how to create, publish, and sell an eBook on your own WordPress website.  Even if no one signed up or bought my eBook, I felt like I got enough experience to make the effort worth it.

Well, another surprise! Even the big companies have come to realize that there is an untapped market out here.  In the past month and a half, I’ve sold 33 copies of the eBook, and 120 people have enrolled in the newsletter course.  For someone with no clout or background in the field of online courses or SEO, this was a pretty big win!

Since I set everything up to be automatic, from the moment I clicked “Publish,” everything is on autopilot.  So everything runs without me having to lift a finger, and I just get my daily course subscribe e-mails and Paypal notifications.  It’s pretty exciting to know that something you spent hours is out there helping people!

I signed my LinkedIn legal paperwork on my way back from Paris (at the DGD American Airlines Admirals Club, actually!), and have been slowly working on creating the course since then.

So this whole AWS THING has obviously been a huge unexpected “win” for me in 2018, and I can’t wait to see where this will lead me in the next year or two! Meanwhile, I haven’t forgotten about getting the AWS Solutions Architect – Associate certification! It’s just been put on the back burner until I can get some time back from all the projects I’m juggling, as well as my new job!

📝 Writing

In the beginning of the year, I had my writing published in The Mighty. For my writing to be published by a publication was a goal of mine for a long time.  My ultimate goal, of course, was to be paid for writing, but I wasn’t very confident that would happen any time soon, if ever.

Well, never say never, because in July, I began working as a Contributing Writer at the INSIDER!  While it takes almost forever to get my articles published (I have one or two still waiting to be published), the fact that I can get paid for my writing has done wonders to my self esteem.  From starting off the year wondering if I’m ever going to be able to publish anywhere other than on my own blog, I became an “published writer.”

In the winter, I joined Maker Mag, and hope to begin contributing there soon too, once my to-do list gets a little shorter than a mile.

💻 Work

My full-time work-life had a very bumpy year.  In the beginning of the year, I was getting pretty burnt out, both emotionally and physically.  I felt like I was firing all cylinders and giving my 150%, but nothing at work seemed to reflect my accomplishments or the new skills I obtained.  Half a year of that, and half a year of having to navigate the societal nightmare that is the promotion process, and I was ready to call it quits.  It really didn’t help that I had my manager change FIVE TIMES in span of 3 months.

There were many promises, missed deadlines, and lack of communication, but finally, in mid-November, I got my official promotion from Technical Services Engineer to Systems Administrator.  After 4 years in IT, 3 of those being spent doing help desk, I was extremely eager to get out of Tier 1 support.  Thankfully, the title change pulled through right before my 2nd anniversary at this job.  So for the past month or so, I’ve been dipping my toes into different systems and projects.

I hope in 3 months, I’ll feel right at home, but for now, I feel like I’m completely lost and floating in space.  It’s so easy to forget how you feel like you were thrown into the ocean without any life gear, but that after a few weeks to months, you realize you know how to swim.  Hoping to feel comfortable in my new “skin” very soon!

💰 Money

My Personal Finance journey for 2018 was two-folds: Reduce Cost of Living and Increase Income.  Yes; seems simple enough, but fairly difficult to attain.  As they say, if you spend less than you make, you save money. (No duh!)

💹 Increase Income (Sources)

In 2018, I got a raise (I prefer to consider it “Cost of Living Adjustment”) and then a promotion at my full-time job, which meant that my income rose by $15,000 this year.  This was the first bump in my salary since December, 2016, so it’s been a long time coming in terms of keeping up with inflation. While the income is still in the “respectable” range, and no where in the “high income” area (especially for NYC), I’m happy to conclude 2018 with the knowledge that I’ve tripled my income in four years that I’ve been working.

I also began to embrace the necessity for multiple sources of income.  When I first moved to NYC, having multiple sources of income was a necessity, not a philosophical thing.  I needed more than what I was making at my “main” job, whether it was babysitting or working full-time in IT in order to make sure my bills and rent were paid, so I babysat and tutored on the side.  After a few years, as income from my full-time job went up little by little, and I stopped tutoring and babysitting.  My lifestyle inflated just a bit.

With my roommate moving out at the beginning of the year, I began exploring new income sources.  I settled on Pet Sitting (I use Rover, which has lowest commission rate, so I keep 80%), Freelance Writing, User Interviews (I’ve made anywhere from $25 Amazon gift cards to $300 check), and now AWS Newbies.  Some are passive, others are active, but I’ve decided to go with ones that I don’t mind doing, and might otherwise do it for free.  Tutoring and babysitting are great sources of income too, but it definitely takes a lot more wind out of you at the end of the day!

So in 2018, I increased my main source of income AND added a few extra sources of income.  My goal for 2019 is for my side income to grow reliably to the point where they can cover my non-rent expenses.

📉 Reduce Cost of Living

I reduced my cost of living not by becoming more frugal and penny pinching, but by going the complete opposite way. I decided that things that I value are worth spending money on.  I treated myself to small treats like snacks or ice cream, became more liberal with how I spent money on travel, friends, and food with friends, and bought the more expensive things.

Since last year, I have been applying the question of, “Does this serve a purpose?” when I have the impulse to buy something.  Do I already have something that does the same thing? Do I have something else that can do the same thing? How do I envision myself using this?  Do I need this? Will this make me happy?  And most importantly: Is this 100% what I want, or am I “making do” because it’s in front of me/on sale/cheaper than the other thing?

Just stepping back and considering the questions above has saved me hundreds of dollars, and have helped me make purchases that make me more content than when I was buying cheaper alternatives.  I don’t have to buy 5 “cheaper” handbags for $100~$150 each if one for $450 is EXACTLY what I want and love.  No clutter, and I am very content with my purchase.  More expensive alternatives tend to last longer, being made with more care and quality materials, so I don’t have to replace them as often.

In terms of groceries and food, sales are great, but I’ve come to learn that I buy a lot of unnecessary things when they are on sale, or sold in bulk.  And most of the time, I can’t finish them before they go bad, or they aren’t even what I actually wanted.  By buying only what I can reasonably consume within a few days, that I already have concrete purposes for has helped me reduce food waste AND $$$ waste having to toss out molded produce or bulk-bought sauces that I don’t even like.

Also, it took me until 2018 to realize that when they say “5 for $10,” it doesn’t mean you have to buy 5. You can buy 3, or even 1, and still receive the discount as long as it doesn’t say “Must buy 5.” Mind blown.

💸 2018 in $$$

In 2018…

  • I managed to up my 401k contribution from 6% Roth to 20% Traditional. In 2019, I’ll be maxing out my 401k ($19,000).
    • I started with putting in $400/month into my 401k in January, and ended up putting in $1,200/mo in December.
  • I opened a Roth IRA account and dumped $11,000 into it for 2017 and 2018.  I will be doing the same for 2019 ($6,000).
    • It’s not too late if you want to do this for 2018/2019: you can make contributions to 2018’s “slot” until tax day in April!
  • I maxed out my HSA (Health Savings Account), so that I won’t have to pay out of pocket for my deductibles.
  • I joined the Personal Finance community on Twitter in February, which has helped me in unimaginable ways to embrace financial literacy and helping to pave way to explore alternative futures that don’t require slaving away at a cubicle until I’m 70.
  • I reached $100k Net Worth milestone in August. This was a HUGE one, as you can imagine, making low-to-mediocre salary in NYC.
    • Between June 2017 and August 2018, my Net Worth went up by almost $40,000.
    • Between January 2017 and August 2018, my Net Worth went up by $20,000.
    • My initial goal was to reach this number in June, 2019, for my 30th birthday.
  • I set a goal of saving $10,000 in 2018. I ended up saving $33,000.
    • This includes my 401k, side hustle incomes, and monthly transfers into my savings accounts and investment portfolios.
    • This was on pre-tax income of mid-5-figure income until October.
  • My Side Hustle income has ranged from $40 to $1,300 each month.
  • I increased my salary by $15,000.
  • I read a lot of money and business books.  Some of my favorites are:

🔥 Life

In November, my boyfriend and I celebrated our 2nd anniversary.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t in Disney World like last year, but after our Paris trip, we weren’t going to take another trip in a hurry!  It’s strange to consider that we’ve only been reacquainted for 2 and a half years, but it seems like we’ve spent a lifetime together, and everything “before” was a long, long time ago.

Back then, I was at a different job (that I hated), and he lived on the other side of the continent!  Back then, I was definitely way more fit than I am now… Ah, the grace of aging!

Eiffel Tower

✈️ Travels

I didn’t travel as much this year as I had in previous years, but did manage to take two major vacations.  In the spring, we visited San Francisco (kind of like a second home at this point, since so many of our friends live there), and in October, we visited France.  And we fell in love! We are looking forward to making Paris into a routine destination in the future, maybe an annual trip!

I also dropped by DC quite a few times throughout the year, going home more than I have in years.  Switching from 6 hour bus ride on BoltBus to 3 hours train ride on Amtrak really does change things!


🧘 Health & Personal Development

🧠 Brain Surgery

On December 7th, I celebrated my 7th anniversary of brain surgery to remove Arteriovenous Malformation. Writing this post made me feel at times like I was going to pass out or have a panic attack, and the whole time, I sustained a tight knot in my chest.

It’s been so long, but I can feel that I’ve been avoiding facing the trauma and emotional burden of coming to terms with what I went through as a young adult and confronting mortality.  I’m going to have to figure out a way to start internalizing it all and reintegrating the experiences instead of leaving them locked up in a box in the back of my mind.

💊 Rheumatoid Arthritis

I stopped taking Aleve (my pain killer of choice) on my birthday after a year and a half of daily pain killers (up to 4 a day) just to be able to move.  Since then, I’ve been slowly decreasing my chemo dosage from 8 tablets a week to 4.  I hope in 2019, I’ll be able to get off Methotrexate completely, and officially be in remission from my Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Chronic pain and RA took quite a lot from me, but I’m determined to take back as much as I can in terms of quality of life in the next few years.  My doctor called me a miracle after doing my annual physical.  She was the person who saw me at my worst trying to find answers and sent me immediately to a rheumatologist, so was shocked to see how much I’d improved in a span of a year.

📖 Bookworm

Pachinko I read 90 books in 2018.  Going through the list on my GoodReads 2018 challenge, I’m again astonished at how long ago it seems, remembering when and where I was reading these books. And yet, 2018 seemed to pass by so quickly. I feel like I was absolutely a completely different person when I was reading the first few of the books on the list!

My hands-down favorite book of 2018 was Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.  I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did, but I felt like I was actually walking through life with 4 generations of this Korean-Japanese family.

Hiroko Nishimura
AWS Community Hero. Special Education teacher turned IT Engineer turned Technical Writer. Author "AWS for Non-Engineers" (Manning Publications). Technical Instructor "Introduction to AWS for Non-Engineers" (LinkedIn Learning).

10 thoughts on “2018: The Year of Unexpected Beginnings”

  1. Phew, that was quite a year! Congratulations on so many successes! Tech writer is indeed a real job, and not an easy one for a lot of writers so it’s no wonder that, with the convergence of your technical knowledge and your writing, you were sought after.

  2. Your portfolio looks great. I love the new word discovery as well. Love learning new words!

    I’m so glad to hear that you’re in remission from your chronic pain. Here’s to hoping that things stay this way. Also, your Paris trip looked phenomenal as well. It’s on my bucketlist.

  3. Wow you sure kept busy this year. Congrats on your promotion and your project with LinkedIn sounds so exciting!

    This year flew by fast for me. The only highlight in 2018 was my trip to Asia in the summer but other than that nothing really exciting haha. Let’s hope to a great 2019!

  4. What a year it has been for you Hiro! I’ve really enjoyed following your journey this year, and wish you all the success in the world next year. You can do anything you set your mind to, you’re genuinely a perfect example for that saying!

    Congratulations on your professional milestones! I feel like that right now with my current job, I’m 4 months in but still find it difficult to explain what DevOps is We should get better with time! I’m so excited for your contributions in the writing world, you’ve inspired me to contribute my writing elsewhere too. The more we share especially in worlds that we are interested and passionate in, the more it can help others which is incredible.

    I LOVE YOUR AWS COURSE! I’ve been given a goal to get better at AWS at work, and have recommended this course to my peers also learning from your course. KEEP IT UP GIRL!

    Also girl, you need to read “The Multi-hyenate Method” By Emma Ganon it’s exactly what you’re describing! 😉 PS HI SISTA, WE ARE THE SAME PERSON AHHAHA

  5. Wow! This is awesome Hiro!

    You’ve accomplished so much in every aspect of your life.

    Congratulations on taking action and making wise decisions along the way.

    I’m sure 2019 (and beyond) will be incredible for you.

    All the best!

  6. First of all, how did I not know you were blogging here?
    Secondly, I’m so glad you had such an incredible year! You accomplished so much and I feel super inspired by this recap. Let’s catch up in person now that I’m in the city sometime and you can fill me in on the details! 😀

  7. 2018 has been and insane year for you and I have enjoyed watching you and your hustles grow! you have definitely inspired me to be more motivated. I’m not going to lie, I am very sensitive (and insecure) so, my emotions and the roadblocks of life get to me so easy. I’m working on myself but seeing you work as hard as you do really lights a fire under me!

    I hope that 2019 is as successful for you as 2018 as been!

  8. Hiro,
    2018 was one crazy, yet unexpectedly positive year for you! Great job with everything you accomplished, and I hope 2019 is going to be just as good for you. I’m attempting to make 2019 the year I finally get out of my stale, stagnant surrounding and job. I am almost done with part of that accomplishment but still have so far to go. Hearing stories like yours are always so uplifting and remind me that anyone can do anything if just in the right mindset to do so.

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